One stormy night in 1826, just north of Galveston Bay, Old Bull, a Cheyenne Indian who had just seen the ocean for the first time, found himself trying to outrace a hurricane. Lifted from his horse, spun around, and thrown down in the bayou, Old Bull rode the current into a small canyon, and survived. He was the only one of his party to return from the expedition, arriving home nearly naked, nearly hallucinating, riding a horse.
Such is the auspicious beginning to the life of Jordan Coolwater, a distant relation to Old Bull, whom we meet as a boy in the 1970s, shooting turtles on a summer day, and being raised by his grandparents on Creek Indian land in the house of his great-great-grandfather, a survivor of the “Trail of Tears.” Bearing the burden of his ancestry, Jordan Coolwater—from bored young boy, to thoughtful teenager, struggling artist, escaped convict, and finally, father—is the subject of Eddie Chuculate’s prize-winning collection of linked short stories. The first story in the collection, “Galveston Bay, 1826,” won an O’Henry Prize in 2007, and the second, “Yo Yo,” received a Pushcart Prize Special Mention.
Reminiscent of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’s Son, Chuculate’s gritty, deceptively simple stories also recall Junot Diaz and Jim Harrison. This is not only a portrait of a young Native American artist struggling with the two constants in his life, alcohol and art, but also a portrait of America, of its dispossessed, its outlaws, and its visionaries.
Chuculate presents a profound disconnect between the mythology of Indian art and the present-day reality of Indian artists, who rarely get to be artists without the cultural qualifier. He also lays bare the effects of wide-spread multi-generational addiction without making excuses for the way his characters treat each other. There are no saints in here, and no demons, either. Cheyenne Madonna is a fantastic debut.
—Jennifer Levin, The Santa Fe New Mexican
Chuculate writes forthright prose in a somber key, examining without judgment the lives of Native American characters like Old Bull, a Cheyenne who, in ‘Galveston Bay, 1826,’ the collection’s one stand-alone story, ventures out to see the ocean for the first time, only to get savaged by a hurricane. Memory and will converge here to powerful effect.
It is an extraordinary book, deceptively simple; each of the stories proves satisfactory on its own, but as a whole they combine to make an incredibly moving book. . . . The great miracle is that Chuculate’s prose somehow manages to be vibrantly emotional without ever becoming sentimental. The writing is steady, contained, and calm, but each story feels authentic, beautiful, and almost effortless, as if the tales had always been floating in the ether around Eddie Chuculate’s head, and one night he simply plucked them down and pressed them smoothly onto the pages of Cheyenne Madonna.
—Rain Taxi Review of Books
Every sentence is unexpected, yet infallible…. The calm, beautiful, unexplaining accuracy of description carries us right through the madness of the final adventure.
—Ursula K. Le Guin, author of The Left Hand of Darkness
This is a book you’ll rave about.
—Julie Shigekuni, author of A Bridge Between Us